Saturday, December 5, 2009

Scrapbook Stuff

So I mentioned that I got a subscription to Storytellers Club monthly scrapbooking kits for Christmas. I wanted to post the first layout I did using the free trial kit that I got. Here is a photo. I'd love to hear feedback! I used a page from the "Just Add Water" theme and a page from the "Family" theme in the kit. This was a camping trip we took to the Colonial Williamsburg KOA a few years ago. We spent the day at the pool and the evening by the campfire. Let me know what you think! I used a matching sheet of the paper to cut out the flowers and suspend them with pop dots over the prints of the same flowers underneath. I thought it turned out pretty cool. I love the papers from Storytellers!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Family Emergency & Holiday Stuff

It's been ages since I've posted. That's mostly because my mother suffered a devastating stroke on Halloween. Actually, it was the night before, but she wasn't discovered until the afternoon of Halloween. She was paralyzed on her right side, was unable to speak or communicate in any way, was blind in her right eye, and deaf in one ear. It pains me to think of all the hours she laid awake in that bed, unable to move and wondering what was happening to her. And this was just a few days after her 74th birthday.

She was taken to the hospital and stayed there for about 2.5 weeks. My sister went to be with her the week or so, and I flew there with Holden to help her the last week. Before I left, I was able to get her transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. She has been undergoing intensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy there. She has improved by leaps and bounds. I have to hand it to her...she is a strong lady, and she has a wonderfully positive outlook. She is now re-learning how to walk with a walker. She is speaking pretty clearly, though more slowly, and she still struggles to find the right words. But at least she can communicate now! She has regained sight in her right eye, and I think her hearing has come back, as well. She has pretty much regained most everything except the use of her right arm. Her right arm only works in the shoulder and upper arm. She can't lift it by herself, but if someone supports her elbow to lower arm, she can push with her upper arm and shoulder. They sometimes place it in a sling so she doesn't injure her arm, and then she can push with her arm, like to maneuver a walker that's been specially adapted for her. She's doing great! They think she may eventually get the use of her arm and hand back, and obviously, that would be wonderful!

I'm so glad I was able to go and help her. She needed a lot of assistance in the beginning, and she wasn't getting very much attention at the first hospital. I enjoyed spending that time with her so much. I was only able to go because my dear friend came over every day in my absence to do lessons with Hayden and Haylee, and Steve came home extra early every day so she wouldn't have to spend all day here. It was great to be able to focus my attention on my mom and not have to worry with what was going on at home. That was such a blessing.

So I came back and sped through entertaining for Thanksgiving. It went really well. We had 4 extra adult guests for dinner and a baby. We all had such a lovely day together. My mom got to go home on a day pass to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at home, and my sister-in-law arrived that week to help my mom out and make dinner that day. She is still there spending time with her at the hospital until the end of next week. So my mom has been very fortunate to have continuous help from family. That's wonderful! I talked to my mom on Thanksgiving Day, and she really enjoyed seeing her home again. They expect her to be home by Christmas for good, but if she is still making progress, then they will continue to keep her. They are really happy with her progress so far.

Now it's on to Christmas! This time of year always speeds by. I love the holiday season! I really get into the Christmas spirit. I had the best Black Friday shopping day ever, and I didn't even go out early. I got a lot of great deals online that morning, and then I didn't go out until almost lunchtime, but I hit the mall and got almost everything else I needed there. The deals seem to abound this year! I had all my holiday shopping completed by the end of the day, but the Cyber Monday came. More deals abounded online, so I did a little more shopping. I don't really have the money for any of this stuff, but we're going to be dipping into savings for bills this month anyway with my unexpected trip to AR, so I'll just wipe it all out that way.

I'm so excited because Steve let me join Storytellers Club as my big Christmas present! I signed up yesterday. I will start with the December Ultimate Scrapbooking Kit, but I also ordered the January, February, March, and October 2009 kits at a steep discount. That should be plenty to get me started! Each one makes up to 16 layouts, so I will definitely have enough materials to keep me busy. They are seasonal kits, but you can definitely adapt them for any occasion. I just LOVE the papers! Very good qualty, double-sided prints with a different print on each side, plus Bazzill textured cardstock perfectly coordinated to the colors of the prints. Then there are chipboard embellishments, ribbons, and other goodies to go with it, plus a pen. I love how everything in the kit coordinates perfectly. I really have a hard time finding cardstock solids in the craft stores around here that actually match the prints that are available, so that was the part that really sold me on doing the club. Steve says I can do it for a year, so that's really cool! My stuff ships today, and I should be getting it some time late next week. If you're interested in checking it out, try the free trial kit first. And they are having a pack sale right now on past packs. Monthly ultimate kits are about $33 including shipping, but the past packs are on clearance right now for $13 for the first one and $10 for each additional one, plus $6 shipping on the whole order. You don't have to be a member to take advantage of this sale, so check it out: That's definitely a deal!

We went on a kids' discovery cruise field trip yesterday on the Spirit of Norfolk. That was fun. I took some people from church with me, and we all went to the zoo afterwards. It was really cold, but we had a nice leisurely afternoon in the company of good friends, and that's always a great way to spend a day.

Now I have to get everyone focused on schoolwork again. We're really just now getting back into the swing of things since I've gotten back from my trip. The kids are really distracted, so I know this whole month will probably be a struggle.

I got my tree put up this weekend and put lights on it, but I haven't added any of the decorations yet. I did wrap some presents, though. I've been so busy!

Well, gotta run. I'll post some pics from Halloween later.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I can hardly believe I haven't posted to my blog in over a month! Gosh, it's been so busy. We just got back from our vacation in the Shenandoah Valley. We stay in Front Royal every year at the same cabin. We've done it the last 3 years in a row. It's so familiar that it feels like a second home when we go there now. We always look forward to it. I have uploaded my photos of the trip yet, but I will post some pictures when I do. We actually took a trip on the Skyline Drive this time, and we got some great shots of the mountain views from there. We got up to like 3,500 ft. on some of the lookout points. It was amazing! I have to admit I felt a little scared every time I pulled off at a lookout point. I felt like I was gonna drive right off the mountain! I got more comfortable with it the longer we were up there, though.

We ended up coming home a day early, as usual. I get so antsy when we're traveling. That feeling of an impending long drive makes me feel so anxious to get it over with that I always end up just packing up and coming home! lol. My dad was always the same way. I've never liked having things looming over my head. I like to hurry up and get things over with. Anyway, it worked out well to come home a day early. Then we weren't rushed, and we had a chance to get unpacked and back into the home routine before returning to schooling and work. We also had a lot of visitors at our church that first day back, so we were glad to be here for that.

Getting the kids back into schoolwork was a challenge this week. I had given them 2 weeks to get a week's worth done before our trip. Then they had a week off during vacation. So getting back to a full schedule was a little rough for them, but they managed to do it. We wrapped up week 12 this week, so we are officially 1/3 of the way through our school year already! That feels like a great accomplishment.

We were hoping to make it to Busch Gardens today, but the weather has been just awful. Our soccer games are even canceled for tomorrow because of this ongoing rain. And it's cold! Our field trip to the corn maze was also rescheduled to next week because of the rain. It's just as well, though...we were pretty busy this week as it was. I took the whole day yesterday and spent it getting Haylee's new bedroom furniture. I sold the crib and dresser, so I finally had room to move the other dresser into the boys' room, which left Haylee needing bedroom furniture of her own. I went and got her a cherry sleigh bed, dresser with mirror, and nightstand. In the pouring rain, Hayden and I managed to get it all in one trip, bring it in, unwrap everything, carry it all upstairs, and assemble it in her room. Then we went and got the matress and boxspring and brought those in, too. Then we went and bought her some brand new Disney Princess bedding and put the finishing touches on her room. Then I cleaned up all the mess from all the boxes and packing materials just before Steve came in. Shew! Man, did I hurt! Every part of my body ached last night. I had a hot bath, but it didn't help much. I ended up taking a couple of Tylenol to go to bed. That helped a lot.

It was all worth it, though. Haylee was beside herself with glee at her new room and her pretty pink bedding. When her dad came in, she went on and on, and he was just giggling at how excited she was. Hayden was a huge help to me throughout the day and even emptied the dishwasher for me so I could do the dishes again. I couldn't get over how helpful he was all day long. There's hope for him yet! lol. :) I made sure to tell him repeatedly how much I appreciated his pitching in when I needed it. I couldn't have gotten all that stuff up the stairs without his help, for sure.

I will definitely post pics of her bedroom when I get a chance. It looks really nice, and it makes her look so tiny in that great big bed! She slept late this morning. I think she really enjoyed her new big-girl bed.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tea Room

For Haylee's 5th birthday at the end of July, I took her to the English Rose Tea Room. That was such a beautiful little place! I just have to take a few minutes to post some pics. We each had the Royal Tea. It was quite a little feast with several courses of goodies to devour! The scones were so good, and so was the fruit & custard parfait. Those were Haylee's favorites of the day.
It was pouring down with rain outside, but we made a reservation for the afternoon when the tea room was only open by reservation, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It was a lovely way to spend the day together, and we got all dressed up for the occasion. Haylee looked like such a little princess! It cost a small fortune, but we had a wonderful time, and I'd like to do it again next year.
For Hayden's birthday, Steve took him out golfing...a full 18 holes! It was equally as expensive, so then I didn't feel so bad! lol.
If you live locally, you should definitely check out the English Rose Tea Room. It won Best of the Beach 2009.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Party was a hit!

Well, after much preparation, the kids' party turned out to be a big hit, I think. Everybody seemed to have fun, and Hayden ended the day by telling me it was the best party he'd had yet. That was enough to make all the fuss worthwhile for me!

The cake turned out really well, and I thought it was absolutely delicious. It was a lot of work, though. I basically spent all day Friday working on it. The decorating took forever, 'cause I really have no experience at decorating cakes beyond simply winging my way through it every year! The chicken recipe was VERY good. I will definitely be making that again in the near future. I don't think anybody, myself included, was fond of the salad. The dressing was icky. I think I'll just toss it. It would have been a great salad with another dressing, but I'll be tossing that recipe, for sure. It seemed like a lot of food once I laid it all out, but it's basically gone already after one night of eating leftovers, so I'm glad I made as much as I did. The Italian Ice punch my friend, Bonnie, made was fabulous! We went through two bowls of that.
So another big Burgess Bash is over. It's good to have it behind us. The next big event to think about is our long-awaited, much-anticipated vacation to the cabin in October. Aaaaaaah, how we all daydream about it. It's been on my mind a lot lately. It's only two months away. It's so peaceful there, and I'm really looking forward to relaxing on that front porch looking out over the rapids in the Shenandoah River below.

Once we get back from vacation, then it will be Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and Holden's birthday party, and alas, Steve and I will be another year older, and another calendar year will be gone. The end of the year always seems to fly by.

Here's a photo of me & Steve...we hardly ever get our picture taken together, so I thought it was worthy of publishing here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Workbox System!!!

I saw the *perfect* set of Sterlite drawers for our workboxes. It's what I wish they'd had when I first went shopping for some. Once I saw them, I knew I had to have them, so I went ahead and replaced what I had with these new ones and then used the other drawer sets to reorganize snacks and drinks in my dining room. Anyway, each set of drawers was $20 at Big Lots, and I got 4 of them. Each set has 7 drawers (3 deep and 4 shallow), and it's all one piece. So they are just the same size as what I had before, except that the smaller sets I had sitting on top weren't as wide. Now all of my teacher's manuals lay flat in the shallow drawers, and I don't have to worry about anybody knocking the smaller sets off the top. The photo at right shows the new setup. Also, Hayden kept losing the post-it notes with the assignments on them that told what pages to read of each book, so I laminated index cards and used Vis-a-Vis wet erase markers to write the assignments on them, and then I taped them inside the drawers so he can see what they say through the drawers and won't need to remove them. We use a 4-day schedule, so I put the whole week's assignments on the card (M-T-W-TH) so I only have to change them on the weekends.

So I really think it looks great, and it's very functional. Now I don't need the return baskets on top. Since each set has 7 drawers instead of 6, each one has an extra drawer on top, so each kid has one as a return drawer for finished work I need to grade, and one as a handy supply drawer for scissors, glue, extra pencils, ruler, etc. I love that it's all contained.

So if you have any comments about it, please share! I would love some feedback.

Incidentally, Big Lots is having a teacher appreciation day next Saturday, August 1st, and I could have gotten an extra 10% off and saved $8, but the kids are having their birthday party that day, and I was afraid I wouldn't ever make it up there since the party often drags on all day (we usually have about 25-30 people in the house!). So I just went ahead and bought them while I had time to get them set up.

I've also been cleaning out the kids' board games. I have been disgusted at how much space they take up, not to mention how they are always losing/misplacing pieces to them, and I find them all over the place. So I had an idea...I went and bought the Hefty One-Zip Jumbo 2.5 gallon storage bags from Target, and I took all the games out of their boxes and put them instead in one of those bags. I cut out the name of the game, any instructions, and the contents list and dropped them into the bag with the game. I organized any small pieces into snack or sandwich sized bags and dropped those in the bigger bag with the game board, as well. I was able to fit nearly all of them in one big storage tub underneath the kids' pool table. I want to make space for them in one of the toy armoires and get rid of the storage tub altogether. I literally filled up both my trash can and my recycle can already! Good thing I'll have trash pickup before the party.

So I'm busy making lists and starting to decorate for their birthday party on Saturday. I called around today and found a cake decorating store that had a handful of cupcake pics with the Italian flag on them. Turns out they were looking to get rid of them and said they's sell me all they have (more than 24) for a grand total of 60 cents! Way cool. I'm waiting for Holden to get up from his nap so we can run and get them. I'd like to find a centerpiece, but I'm not having any luck except for online, and it's too late to get things shipped in time now.

The party is going to be an Italian Cook-Off theme. The kids are all going to get their own white aprons to decorate with fabric markers and take home as party favors. They will be making their own personal pizzas using Boboli crusts. For the grownups, I'm making a full spread of Italian fare, including Bruschetta Stuffed Chicken Breasts, Italian Garden Salad, Fettuccini Alfredo, Spaghetti and Meatballs, sliced Italian bread topped with mild Italian sausage, peppers and onions, and mozzarella baked on it, a fresh fruit tray, snacks, and an Italian Chocolate Cream Cake as the birthday cake. It's supposed to be a large 3-layer cake, but I'm going to bake it as a 1/2 sheet cake instead. I figured for serving so many people, that will be easier to slice up. I'm also doing strawberry cupcakes for Haylee with green and red sugar sprinkled on white frosting and the flag pics on top.

This is going to be such a busy week. I started braiding red, green, and white streamers today and taping them to the corners of the room, meeting at my ceiling fan in the middle. I will probably wait until later in the week to blow up the balloons and hang them. I got great Italian folk music from the library that I'm going to have playing in the background, too. I wanted to find affordable chef hats for the kids to keep, too, but I haven't had any luck.

Well, I've gotta run...I hear thunder, and the Bounce Around is still out in the yard!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Trying Something New

Shew! This had been a busy month that has just simply flown by! Our school schedule has been pretty cumbersome these last 3 weeks, so we haven't had time for much else. All the Sonlight forums say that Core 5 has the heaviest workload of all the cores, even for high school, and that the first 2 weeks of it are the heaviest of all. Many people have posted that they take a full 2 weeks to do EACH of the first 2 weeks. But we have managed to trudge our way through at full steam ahead without stretching it out at all. I'm happy to say we are finishing up week 3 now, so hopefully the pace will slow a bit for us now! We're starting to get the hang of the World Book Encyclopedia on DVD-ROM and how to use it for our Eastern Hemisphere Explorer research.

Now I'm taking the plunge and venturing out to try something totally new. We've been using Silver Burdett English for years and have been loving it. I purchased textbook/workbook sets up through 8th grade several years ago and have had them in the cabinet just waiting to be used each year. I love it's straight-forward approach to teaching grammar and the way it eases kids into writing. Hayden has really needed that. But now I'm finding that he's getting very lazy with it, rushing through all the worksheets because each one focuses on one specific grammar rule. He's not really paying attention to what he's actually doing, and that has been bugging me like crazy this year. Then I stumbled onto something on the Saxon Homeschool website. I found out they've just released (May 20th, 2009) a new Saxon Grammar & Writing program for grades 5, 6, 7, and 8. I saw it about a month ago, but there weren't any samples posted yet, and I sure wasn't going to drop that kind of money without seeing the contents first. Then Thursday night, I saw there were rather lengthy 25-page samples for each grade posted on their website. I took a long look at it and was very impressed.

It has the same incremental, spiral-learning approach as Saxon Math, and that was just what I was hoping for! The "mixed practice" that Saxon Math has works wonderfully for Hayden. It helps him retain what he has learned in previous lessons by bringing forth a spattering of questions from across those lessons, and it forces him to pay attention to what he's doing because every question references something completely different. That makes him have to think about what the question is asking. I think that's just what he needs for grammar, too. In looking through the sample, it looks like it is exactly that, and each question on the mixed practice references the lesson number in parentheses that the question came from so he can look back to refresh his memory if he gets stuck.

Hayden does Saxon Math totally independently now, and I'm hoping he will be able to do the grammar program the same way. I'm very excited about it! I talked to Steve about it, and he said it sounded like a good plan, so I went ahead and ordered it. It retails for $75 from Saxon's website plus $10 shipping. But then I did an internet search and found it at for $55 + $11 shipping, and I will have it in about a week. There are 112 lessons in it, and that works out to about 3 per week for the whole school year, so we'll have to catch up on about the first 12 lessons once it comes. I think we can do it, though. The homeschool set includes the student textbook, student workbook, and teacher's packet. The textbook covers grammar concepts, the workbook covers writing, and the teacher's packet has the answer key and forms for tracking student progress.

So wish us luck! Hayden has always loved Saxon Math and Saxon Phonics, so I'm hoping he'll really take to this since the format will be so familiar and comfortable for him.

I'm headed out shortly to pick up this month's Angel Food order. They've started sending out neat invitations to order that include photos of all of the food items in the basic box. I have to admit the advertising is very appealing and really helps you visualize what's included so you can figure up in your head if it's a good value for your family or not.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Target Finds

I saw a couple of posts about Target getting teacher helps in the Dollar Spot, so I decided to go check it out today. I found lots of goodies!

  • Leveled reader books (got level 2 books on Whales, Dolphins, & Sharks and Animals of Africa…they say grades 1-3, but my daughter who is not yet 5 could read them…they also had level 3, which say grades 2-4)

  • 100-piece jigsaw puzzle of North America called Coast to Coast

  • A Math Bingo game (says for 2-8 players, ages 5+)…includes 42 cards on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, 70 bingo chips, and 8 bingo cards)

  • They had tons of SmartMats. These are 2-sided dry erase placemats. They covered all kinds of topics. I got one of the United States. It shows states and capitals on one side, and is unlabeled on the other side. I plan to let Hayden keep this in the van to mark off the states when he sees out of state plates. He’s been making a list inside the cover of his puzzle book that he keeps in the van, but I thought it would be more fun to mark it on the map so he can see how far they’ve traveled. We have a lot of military here, and it’s also a popular tourism area, so we see lots of out-of-state plates on a daily basis. I also got one that says “class schedule” on it, but it has analog clocks without hands and blank digital clocks printed on it. I know when teaching time with Saxon Math, I have to draw a lot of these on the chalkboard for practice, so I’ll just use this mat instead!

  • A small 8-pocket pocket chart called a Classroom Card Scheduler. I haven’t really decided how I could use this yet, short of using it to rearrange things in order (alphabetical order, numerical order, etc.). If anybody has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them! It has grommets at the top so you could hang it on the wall if you wanted to.

  • They had TONS of workbooks of all kinds from PK-3rd grade. I only bought a Science one. It says grades 2-3, and it’s called Science Projects & Experiments. It had some cool-looking experiment instructions in it that you could do with household things. The pages are perforated for easy removal, so I thought these would make great “fun” items for the workboxes.

  • Primary colored pom-poms and pipe cleaners for my craft supply box. They also had a bag with various sizes of googly eyes.

There were plenty more things that I did NOT get because I didn’t need them, like flash cards, rubber stamps with encouraging things on them (nice job, A+, etc.). They also had some neat non-school-related items. One in particular I just have to share is the telescoping metal marshmallow sticks with wooden handles! I bought one for each of us to take on vacation with us to the cabin in the mountains this fall. They will also be great to use in the fireplace at home next winter. I usually just use disposable wooden skewers, but I usually still need a glove or oven mitt to keep from burning my hand since they aren’t that long. These telescoping rods extend really far! The kids were thrilled!

That’s about it. It was definitely worth stopping in there.

Interesting stuff

I finally located my camera that has been misplaced! I uploaded an updated photo of our workbox system in last week's post about my workbox adaptations. I wanted to show you the completed system with the schedule charts above it and the clock-in/clock-out pockets on the wall. I also added a clock there so they would have a better awareness of how long it was taking them to move through their boxes. You can see that I color-coded everything blue for Hayden and pink for Haylee.
I came across a really cool website to practice spelling and vocabulary. It's called Spelling City. You can enter your own spelling words there, and it will turn teach them, turn them into online or printable games and puzzles, and even administer an oral spelling test for you and grade it on the spot! It's so awesome. Most sites like this that I've seen before have a limited word bank to choose from, so they generally only work for younger kids. But on this site, it seems you can add any word you have. I input Hayden's 7th grade spelling words from Houghton Mifflin Spelling & Vocabulary, and it recognized and annunciated every one correctly, and even gave them in the context of a sentence! I also like how you aren't stuck with one person's voice. It changes with each word given. There's nothing worse than being stuck with one annoying voice and not being able to change it. On this site, it automatically cycles through a number of different voices.
We're supposed to be off school this week, but we're still dabbling a bit in our workboxes to stay a little ahead of schedule in case something fun comes up! We like going to the free movie festival each week, so having some work done ahead of time ensures that we won't get behind because we're going to the movies!
I'm gonna go out in a few minutes and get our tickets for the Tides game on Friday night. It's our family tradition to go every year to one of the 4th of July celebration games that have fireworks afterwards. It's neat to be sitting so close to the fireworks, since they set them off from a boat just behind Harbor Park.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Workbox details

I just wanted to post some details on our adaptations of the workbox system.

First of all, as you can see in the photo here, I use Sterlite drawers instead of open boxes. This is much neater and tidier and keeps my toddler out of the contents.

Second, I don't use the schedule strip as described in Sue Patrick's book. Instead, I use a laminated chart on the wall above the boxes that has all the numbers written on it in squares. Each square has velcro on it.

Third, instead of taking the numbered tags from the schedule strip and placing them on the boxes as they are completed, I put the numbers on the boxes when I fill them. Then, as the kids finish each box, they remove the tag and place it on the corresponding spot on the numbered chart on the wall. So they know the boxes they have left are the ones with number tags on them, and I can glance at the chart on the wall at any point during the day and see how close they are to finishing by how many tags are still missing from the chart.

This setup has worked very well for us for the last couple of months. For the most part, the kids have had a better attitude and lots of enthusiasm to start and finish their work earlier rather than later. Occasionally, though, Hayden (with ADHD) still reverts to his old habits of only half-doing an assignment and trying to pass it off as finished, or wasting time when he should be doing his work. Admittedly, today was the worst day yet since we started the system. But today was NOT a typical day as far as our routine goes. Today was the first day of the Regal Free Family Film Festival, so we went to the movies in the morning and started school in the afternoon. In addition, he had flag football practice this evening. So it was anything but a typical day. In addition, with the limited hours for school, Haylee was NOT doing school, as she was already two days ahead of schedule, and I knew there wouldn't be enough time for me to work with both of them. So he was a bit distracted by her, as she kept playing around him and talking to him and adding to his distraction. This is one of the benefits of the workbox system we've seen...they both can be busy with school at the same time, so there's less opportunity for distraction. Having that not be the case, like today, shows why that is SO important to the flow of our school day.

I haven't posted new pics lately because I can't seem to find my camera, lol. You know how that goes. Hayden has been swiping it and taking miscellaneous pictures lately, as evidenced by the strange photos of the floor and Haylee making funny faces when I go to offload my photos to the computer, ROFL. I've even seen photos of store shelves and cars passing by outside my van while I'm driving. That can only be Hayden! Mind you, I bought him his own camera this spring for Easter...a nice VTech Kidzoom camera...but I had to take it away because they were drawn to it like a magnet during school hours, and I guess I forgot to give it back, so he's been playing with mine. :)

Another tip on workboxes, this time related to actually filling them each night. A lot of people say it takes them a big chunk of time to fill them up at night. I found myself having to stay up late after the kids were in bed to do it uninterrupted. But by 10 PM, I'm tired and falling asleep myself after I nurse the baby, so that was hard for me. I've found a better way that makes more efficient use of my time. Now, as each child finishes a box, I go ahead and refill it with the items for the next day. So as soon as they move that number tag to their chart on the wall, I drop in the box what needs to be in it for the next day. Most of their textbooks and related items stay in the boxes anyway, so it's just a matter of adding in any worksheets or supplies for experiments and the like that needs to be done for the next day. But by updating them as we go along, I don't need that huge chunk of time at the end of the night to get the boxes ready for the next day. I mentioned before that I have the whole school year scheduled out and all of their worksheets sorted into daily page protectors before we ever start our new school year. All that prep BEFORE the school year begins is a worthwhile investment of time, also. I use Sue's workbox schedule (just a blank table with the numbers of the boxes and columns for each school day of the week) to type out the contents that need to go in each box for the week for each child, and I make that on Friday nights for the following week. So I only have to stay up one night a week to take care of that. I take the time to flip through their lesson plans for science and math and all the other subjects and itemize all the supplies that need to be in the boxes for each day's assignments. So refilling the boxes as we go along is simple because I just glance at that schedule and grab those items that change each day and drop them into the box as we move on to the next one.

As others have stated, the time it takes to keep the workboxes filled is more than balanced out by the amount of time that is SAVED during the actual school day by having everything ready and waiting and organized. Not having to stop to go get supplies for an assignment, and not having a child wait for the next assignment because you're still busy with the other child are both HUGE time-savers, and more importantly, it keeps the momentum going for the KIDS themselves. The fewer opportunities for them to get sidetracked, the better.

Yesterday, as a "fun" box for Haylee, we made a shrinky dink shape. We'd never done one before...that was pretty neat! Hayden says he wants to make one, too, and he wants to watch it shrink up in the toaster oven. So I guess we'll be seeing a return of Shrinky Dinks to the workboxes one day soon! I had picked up the little kit, new and unopened, at the thrift store for a mere 45 cents, and it came with a little satin headband you could glue the shapes to for decoration. They are too cute. I thought it was cool how it comes out so thick, almost like glass, when it goes in so paper thin. I guess they'd look pretty cute as scrapbook embellishments, too. I'll have to remember that.

Another recent craft find at the thrift store was a new, unopened kit for making stained glass bottles. It has little miniature bottles in it, and the paints for making them look like stained glass. I thought Haylee would enjoy making that, and maybe even Hayden. He likes painting stuff. It was also only 45 cents and came with 4 bottles in the kit. I love finding unusual, cheap crafts like that to put into the boxes for fun.

Our workload for school is definitely full this year. Hayden is not getting fun boxes right now because he has 12 real assignments. Haylee is having 10 real assignments and 2 fun boxes each day. I'm hoping things will lighten up for Hayden at some point, but I've heard that Core 5 is the heaviest workload of all the Sonlight cores. Plus, we do so many supplemental things, particularly this year. I don't know. I think I need to work in some fun things for him, if not in the boxes, then at least in the middle of the school day just to break things up, like 15 minutes playing on the Didj, or 15 minutes playing on the Wii, or 15 minutes playing outside. I don't know if that would work in a positive way with him or not. It might get him off track so that he has a hard time getting focused again, but on the other hand, it might be just enough of a break to get him rejuvenated to keep going and get his work done. I might have to experiment with it a bit. As of late, though, he's being rather lazy about his work. I really had to babysit him through his assignments today because he was too lazy to read the directions to understand what he was supposed to do. I always have to be prepared to change things up with him to stay one step ahead of him.

Well, here's to hoping things go more smoothly tomorrow as we get back to a normal routine again. I was trying to steal away to my computer frequently today to start planning their big birthday bash in August. Hayden and Haylee's birthdays are only 12 days apart, so we have one huge party every year and really go all out with a theme. We're doing an Italian Bistro party this year. I always make authentic dishes to go with the theme, and I love to make things from scratch and try new recipes. I think I'm going to make homemade Calzones this year, and let the kids make their own individual pizzas as an activity. For side dishes, I was thinking fettuccini alfredo, spaghetti and meatballs, Italian bread or maybe homemade bruschetta (I just learned how to make that in a cooking class), salad, fruit tray, veggie tray, and for the cake, I found a great-looking recipe on AllRecipes for a Chocolate Italian Cream Cake.

I'm also trying to find some affordable plain white aprons that the kids can decorate themselves while their pizzas are cooking, and then they can take them home as party favors. I'm having a hard time finding youth sized ones rather than kid-sized ones, which are made more for the preschool set. Most of their friends are even bigger than they are, so I definitely need the youth size. If anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment on my blog. Thanks.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday Busy-ness

Today is Saturday, and yet Haylee insisted on doing school! She did, too...a whole day's worth. She's a day ahead of schedule over Hayden now, but they both were already 1 day ahead. We're supposed to start our new school year on Monday, but Hayden has done the 1st day and Haylee has done the 1st and 2nd day already. Gotta love that enthusiasm! That is one of the things I love best about the workboxes...each school assignment is always ready to go, so they can work ahead if they want to. This will be especially beneficial for Haylee since she tends to want to work on school even on the weekend. I like it when she is ahead of schedule, because it takes a little bit of the pressure off me during the week and gives me more focused time to spend with Hayden so we can finish up earlier in the day.

I spent about an hour outside in the backyard weeding my gardens. It's June 20th, and I have yet to put my plants out! I think I've missed the boat. I only have two starter plants...1 tomato and 1 pepper. The rest will have to start from seed. We'll see. I'm going to plant anyway, probably tomorrow. Both square foot gardens were overgrown with weeds, but one wasn't so bad because I'd weeded once already this spring. The other one had weeds about as tall as my waist! But it takes about half an hour each to weed them, even when they are that bad, because the soil is so moist and soft and loose that I can do all the weeding with just my hands, roots and all. Gotta love that. I'd never garden any other way. If you haven't tried square foot gardening, you should really give it a shot. I used landscaping timbers above the ground, laid weedblock in the bottom, and filled it with an organic soil mixture you mix yourself as outlined in the book. I did it years and years ago, and it's been so easy to maintain. I keep it organic by planting a border of marigolds in the squares along the perimeter. It creates a natural pest barrier because of their strong odor. I never have troubles with bugs eating my plants now.

I also have a Granny Smith apple tree in my yard. I'm hoping the ants don't attack the tree this year, 'cause it seems especially covered in fruit this year. They make a fabulous apple pie around early August. I might have to break down and have Steve put Seven Dust on it to keep the fruit from getting spoiled by the ants. We have a big problem with Carpenter ants here, as well as the regular ants. We even had a bout with fire-ants in our sandbox 2 summers ago! We had to abandon the sandbox last year because we were afraid the kids would get attacked again. They crawled all up in Hayden's shirt that summer and were stinging him. He was hysterical, running around the yard undressing and trying to get them off!

I am so glad to have the garden ready for planting tomorrow. I have just been so busy that I haven't gotten around to it. Isn't that always the way?

I took Suzie, our oldest dog, up to Petsmart for a flea bath. She was scratching like crazy. Now she's clean and fresh, but peeing/pooping all over the house. This is why she is an outside dog, but I have to keep her inside for 2 days until it's okay to apply the BioSpot flea preventative to her. Steve is treating the yard with flea killer right now. So by the time she goes back out tomorrow night, she should be well protected from re-infestation.

Angel, on the other hand, has been staying in the house ever since she had her spa treatment in May. She is so good in the house and can wait all day long and just go out to the bathroom once a day. She mainly lays around and sleeps all day! She's pretty tolerant of Holden messing with her, too, even though she is getting older, too. Suzie is 15 now, and Angel is 11. That's so hard to believe!

I baked a batch of Amish friendship bread today. I just had a slice...yum! We love that stuff. I keep the extra batches in the freezer and take them out when I'm ready to bake the loaves. Then when I get down to the last batch, I take it through the whole 10-day process to expand it into 4 more batches. You can make the starter yourself if you don't have the benefit of getting one from a friend. Then you can just follow the recipe after that. It will keep going indefinitely. I got my original batch from a friend in April 2008. I shipped it all over the place, even to Michigan to my mother-in-law, and she sent it all over her state to her friends, too. You can do all kinds of variations on the baking recipe, as well. The recipe I use is a little different from that, but very raisins or nuts, though.

Holden didn't get a nap at his usual time since Steve and I were both outside working on the yard. After he shared some friendship bread with me, he apparently climbed up on the couch, pulled down the blanket off the back of the sofa, and went to sleep right there in the corner of the couch sitting up. What a cutie! If I can find my camera, I'll snap a photo and post it later. He's such a sweetie-pie. :)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fun with Brain Quest

I continued cleaning out the schoolroom today. I think I'm basically finished now. I just have to carry the stack of storage bins full of books out to the shed now. I really got things organized in there. I went out and bought some more storage drawers. This time, I got one to hold all of the toddler's snacks! He had them on a little table in the corner of the room, and I was forever picking up the canisters off the floor as he'd dig through to get what he wanted. I should buy stock in Gerber for as much of the Graduates as we buy! lol. Anyway, now it's in a set of clear drawers, so it's all contained and orderly and organized. We should be in good shape to start our new school year next week.

During the cleanout, I ran across a set of BrainQuest cards that were age appropriate for Haylee. I started playing it with her, and Hayden came and joined us. They ended up playing it game-show style with me as the hostess. Hayden grabbed a couple of nearby tubs of Play-Doh to use as buzzers when they were prepared to answer. It was cracking me up. They had such fun. They went through one whole side of the deck! Hayden said it was really fun and that he would like a set for his grade level. So we made a quick trip over to the thrift store to find some more. I found a 7th grade deck for a mere 99 cents, so I grabbed that and will put it up for him to use in a couple of years. I'll have to keep my eye out for a 5th grade set.

I'm steadily making my way through the downstairs, cleaning out and organizing things as I go. I'm so glad I had this week off to work on it, although I must admit that the kids and I have been out and about most every day doing something or other. Tomorrow, I'm taking them to Water Country for a couple of hours and then to Busch Gardens for the rest of the day. I know we're gonna be so tired after a day in the sun and the long drive home! But it will be fun. It will be a great last hoorah before getting back to the business of school.

Saturday, I have to pick up our Angel Food order. If you've never heard of it or given it a try, you should really check it out. Some months are better than others. I don't do it every month, but I do it a few times a year. Anybody can participate. There are no income requirements or's open to all. You can view the next month's menu and decide if the $30 box of food is a good value for your family or not. Everything is always of good quality, though. I've been happy to see that they keep adding new pickup locations. They are slowly getting closer and closer to home. Last year, I had to drive to a neighboring city, but 3 have been added to our city this year alone. It makes it more worthwhile when I don't have to spend a lot in gas to get there.

I have been meaning to bake a batch of Amish Friendship Bread since Saturday, but I've been too busy, so the bag of goop is still sitting on my counter, about ready to explode! I had hoped to get to it today, but I have run out of time once again. I guess Friday will be the magic day. It's always so yummy, and it doesn't stick around here very long! We all love it. I put the extra batches from splitting it up in the freezer. Then I just thaw one when I want to bake it until I get to the last batch, and then I take it through the 10-day process again to multiply the batches. I've been working this batch since a friend shared it with me in April of 2008. I even shipped some to my MIL in Michigan, and she spread it all over the state. They are addicted now, too! It's the moistest, most delicious cake-like loaf you've ever eaten. My kids love the crusty cinnamon sugar coating on the outside. We all fight over who gets to eat the end slices!

Well, I must be getting everybody ready for bed so we can get out of here early enough to make the drive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I have a lot of fun organizing and setting up group field trips for homeschool families. I have a Yahoo Group for this:(

We do field trips twice a month throughout the year. It's a lot of fun. There are nearly 300 families in my group, and I've been doing this for about 3 years. It's strictly a volunteer thing. I really enjoy it.

Today, we are doing an end-of-school-year Mad Science Party. A scientist from Mad Science will come in and put on a show for about an hour with a variety of interactive science experiments. Each of the kids will get to make their own slime to take home...I'm sure they'll love that! LOL. I'll try to post a photo later today after the party is over.

Next week, we'll be going out to Cape Henry to do one of their summer adventure programs. The kids will get to try to find a lost treasure by using a compass to guide them. This will be a team activity. They'll get goodie bags to take home, too.

There is so much to do in this area that I'm never short on ideas, and I've found a lot of new things to do this year. Homeschooling is very popular here, so most of the museums and organizations offer special programs just for homeschoolers. That's really cool.

No surprise...Haylee is asking to do her schoolwork, even though they are off this week! There's never enough school for her...I sure hope that enthusiasm continues over the years. If only some of it could rub off on Hayden! lol. He used to be that way, too. Anyway, I guess I'd better take some time to fill her workboxes today so she can dabble in that some.

This morning, I had Steve take the old toy bin set down from the attic. I got it all set up in Holden's toy corner in the living room. I guess this will be our toddler version of workboxes! I figured if he could get to his toys by himself, then it would help to keep him occupied with stuff to do while the rest of us are working on school during the day. It will make cleaning up a breeze, and he can pick what he wants to play with. I can easily remove a particular bin if I want to him play with balls, or cars, or building blocks, or whatever. It's not as tidy as the chest of clear drawers that I had there before, but it's definitely more functional and user-friendly for a busy toddler.

The other two kids are working on a big jigsaw puzzle today. They finished it this morning (they started it yesterday), but they've already disassembled it and decided to do it again! They must have enjoyed it. It's one that glows in the dark if you turn the lights off. Kinda neat. I bought it at Ollie's Bargain Warehouse last fall to take on vacation with us.

I'm in the middle of a big mess in our schoolroom. My original intention for that room was that everything for school would be stored in there, and we'd actually sit at the table in there to DO school. But with time, I came to realize that there was better natural lighting at our dinner table, and the dinner table also is at least twice the size of the school table, so we've migrated to the dinner area! Everything for school is still stored in the schoolroom (our old formal dining room), but the workboxes are now set up in the corner of the dinner area, and that's where we actually do school. Crazy, I know. But what are you gonna do?!? lol. Anyway, it's a mess in the actual schoolroom because we just finished up the school year and got everything ready for the new school year. I still have bins everywhere from packing up the old books. I need to pull together the odds and ends to put in each bin before I take them out to the shed. I try to make sure I keep everything for each grade level together so that when it gets pulled out for the next kid in 5 years, it's all in one place. That's the curse of having kids so far apart in age. My shed is definitely filling up! But at least I'm at a point now where I'm starting to use a Core from the shed at the same time.

Somebody asked me to post what kinds of curricula we use. We mainly use Sonlight for the Core (history, bible, readers, and read-alouds) and also for Science. We love all the Usborne books. But I've found that Sonlight covers topics for Social Studies and Science in a different order than public schools. It seems we always have to cram for the CAT test at the end of the school year in those two subjects. So this year, I'm hoping to take some of the last-minute pressure off Hayden by supplementing all year with public school textbooks for those two subjects. No heavy work involved...just a little extra light reading each day throughout the year to keep those topics fresh in his mind for test time. It doesn't really add that much "extra" to our day. We get sort of stressed out with test prep before the CAT, so I'm hoping this will alleviate that. I don't know why I worry about it, though...the lowest overall score Hayden has ever had is 98th percentile, and that was only once...all the other years, it was 99th percentile!

We LOVE Saxon Math. We've always used it. Both of the kids enjoy it. Hayden is doing 7/6 this year, and Haylee is doing 1. I really like the layout of the middle grades math. It's basically self-teaching. Hayden likes it that way. I know a lot of people skip questions on the Mixed Practice, but Hayden does them all. Math is his favorite subject, and it only takes him about 30 minutes to do all 30 questions in the mixed practice, so I don't feel like it's too much. Hayden is also very motivated by the daily drills. He loves to beat his time over previous drills.

I used to use Sonlight Language Arts the first few years, but it just wasn't working for Hayden, and I didn't feel like it was very thorough. It sort of jumped around and never really spent any time on any one concept. He just wasn't retaining anything, 'cause it seemed like nothing was actually taught, if you know what I mean. It's considered a natural language approach. Whatever! It was his weakest area on testing. I switched about halfway through our second grade year to Silver Burdett English (an old PS textbook from the mid-80's). I had gotten one from a retiring teacher on Freecycle, and I really liked the look of it. He did SO well with it. He had been a year ahead in English up to that point, but we backtracked and did that whole book by the end of the year because I just didn't feel like he had mastered the concepts. His test scores went way up after that! So I went online and ordered textbook and workbook sets from 1st through 8th grades to keep for all the kids to use from the start. I spent maybe $80 on all of it, including shipping. Quite a bargain! Each unit covers both grammar and composition, with the composition using the elements of grammar covered in the unit. It actually teaches the writing process using graphic organizers, which were a huge help to Hayden to figure out how to get the ideas from his head to the paper in an organized way. I just can't say enough good things about it. Many of our friends have since switched to it, as well, and they all feel the same way about it.

The subjects Hayden is studying this year are history (countries of the Eastern Hemisphere, plus review of American History as a supplement), math, grammar & composition, science (anatomy mainly, plus some review), art, music (we're in our second year of playing the recorder using Beyond the Nine-Note Recorder Method...awesome!), vocabulary (using Wordly Wise), spelling (using HF Spelling & Vocabulary), handwriting, and bible (daily readings and a devotions book).

Haylee is studying math, world cultures, spelling/vocabulary, health, science, art, music, English (using World of Language), handwriting, and phonics.

Well, that's enough for now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Well, it seems all the world has a blog but me, so I'm giving it a shot! This is my first shot at setting one up. I'm a homeschooling mom of 3 and happily married nearly 15 years. My life basically revolves around my kids and their education, so most of what I post will be something to do with their school and activities, I'm sure! lol.

If anybody reads this, I'll be amazed! But I have to say I've really benefited from the blogs of other HS moms recently, so hopefully, I can return the favor by posting some great ideas.

I just recently discovered Sue Patrick's Workbox System. I'm so glad I did! It has totally transformed our school day. My oldest son has ADHD, and getting through the school day can be a real chore for everyone because of the way he drags his feet and gets distracted a million times a day. But the workbox system has been very motivating for him, and it keeps the workflow going when I'm working with my daughter and vice versa. They also love the little surprises they get in their boxes in terms of fun activities and special snacks throughout the day. It keeps things new and fresh, and they really get excited about it. I didn't like the idea of the open bins, as her book suggests. One, it's untidy looking, and this setup is located in the corner of my dining area. Two, I have a toddler who would be all too busy dumping things out of the bins if they were so easily accessible. These rolling carts were affordable ($11 each for the big ones, $6.50 for the smaller ones, and $2.50 for the return baskets on top...all from Big Lots). Since this photo was taken, I've moved the chart that holds the numbers to the wall above the baskets, and I've also added the clock-in/clock-out pockets above, plus a clock on the wall so they can be more aware of the passage of time with each workbox.

We started just a few weeks ago, so we were able to spend our final month of the school year setting up the system and tweaking how we use it. We school year-round, so we only have a week-long break between school years. The kids were so excited to be done that they even did their first day of the new school year before they started their break, just to see how the typical school day would be for them both. Hayden is starting 5th grade, and Haylee is starting Kindergarten.

Holden is turning 18 months old at the end of this month. Hooray! He's such a big boy and so full of personality these days. He starts off every day with such gusto, and he never fails to make us all smile.

I made a couple of file folder games for the kids today to keep them occupied since they couldn't go out to play in the pool on account of the overcast skies and occasional drizzle. That kept them busy for a little while. I'm loving I signed up for the monthly subscription. The first month is only 99 cents, and $12.99/month thereafter. I'm really getting a lot of use out of it initially. If the usefulness continues, I'll probably switch to the annual subscription for $99, which saves $55 over the course of the year. It seems well worth it. The Evan-Moor Take It to Your Seat books generally run about $25 each, so if you print out 4 of those a year, you have recouped your cost already. There are so many topics available there to supplement your homeschool, and the material spans grades PK through 6th.

Well, I guess I'll sign off for now. We just got in from our end-of-school-year celebration dinner. Every year, the kids get to pick where we go out to eat as a reward for all their hard work at finishing up another school year. We hardly ever go out to dinner, so it's kind of a big deal for them, and they even get to pick dessert.